17 - XO

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lovely-quality food

The exterior of the restaurant impressed me. Minutes earlier, Forrest had entered a busier part of town where there was a chain of attractive joints and cute shops. He soon parallel-parked along the side of the road, right beside a skinny tree. At this time of day, there were several people out.

I examined XO once I got out of the car. With wintergreen paint on the walls and a white outline, it looked rather clean, like it just opened a few months prior. There were two wide windows on either side of the door, revealing the glowing, laid-back scene within. The place wasn't packed, which I appreciated.

"Come on," Forrest quietly encouraged and I followed him inside. A mouth-watering scent instantly met my nose and a pang struck my chest. I couldn't remember the last time I'd been to a restaurant like this. All of the furniture seemed to be made of maple wood and hanging on the walls were multiple gorgeous paintings. Upbeat jazz music traveled through the air, sending off a pleasant vibe.

Quickly after we walked through the door, the host came to us. "Welcome to XO," he chirped. The greeting felt sincere. "Table for two?"

"Yes, please," Forrest answered. Soon, we headed towards a free table. I flashed him an – almost bashful – smile as we sat down.

The host handed us menus and reassuringly said, "Your waiter will be here in a minute."

"Wow," I murmured as I flipped through the list of meals. There were choices for appetizers, salads, entrées, desserts, and beverages. All of them sounded rather delectable, but what I focused on were the prices. The last thing I wanted to do was take advantage of the green-eyed boy in front of me, but I was nearly sure that even if I did order the most expensive option, Forrest would still easily pay without a problem.

"Do you want an appetizer?" he questioned, his brows furrowed. My lips quirked upwards at how serious he looked while reading. "Mozzarella cheese sticks," he read aloud, "Golden-fried with a side of tangy marinara sauce. Hmm, that sounds good to me."

"Well, it's up to you," I replied, "To be honest, I don't, uh, want to make a dent in your wallet or anything."

"June," Forrest suddenly exclaimed, making me blink in surprise. "Don't worry about the money," he prodded, "I wouldn't have brought you here if I couldn't afford it. Pick whatever you want, okay?"

I felt my face flush. "Fine," I muttered. God, he had to be the most courteous person I'd ever encountered. "I guess."

Moments later, something caught my eye. Turkey Panini: Thinly-sliced grilled turkey breast with melted Swiss cheese, sizzling bacon strips, and diced tomato on toasted sourdough. It was seven dollars and ninety-nine cents. But then my gaze flickered over to the Salads section. Caesar Salad: Fresh Romaine tossed with savory croutons and shaved Parmesan cheese, garnished with a fat-free lemon vinaigrette dressing. I pressed my lips together. It was surprisingly nine dollars and twenty-five cents.

If I was in the mood to eat healthy, the salad was the way to go. But then Forrest would probably claim that it wasn't enough or something, and I didn't really feel like receiving a lecture on how I didn't need to watch my weight – even though I clearly did.

Before I could further dwell on it, someone approached our table. I detected her before Forrest did. I assumed she was just our waitress, but I quickly realized she was apparently more than that once she put her hand on Forrest's shoulder.

"Forrest!" She beamed; her teeth were rather dazzling. "You didn't tell me you were coming today!"

I stared, two words humming in my mind. She's pretty. Her hair made her stand out. It was vividly blonde – enough to be deemed unnatural – and recklessly chopped, falling just above her shoulders and eyes. Her bangs, in particular, were rather lopsided. It was like she cut it herself, out of mere boredom. She somehow managed to pull off the look nicely, though. It suited the structure of her slim face, which – I couldn't help, but notice – only had a few blemishes. She wasn't anywhere close to perfect, but she was far better than I was. With soft eyes, a button nose, and rosy lips, she was enough to make jealousy slice through me.

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